Lost in Northern Vietnam – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition

_This life is to be lived without regret__________________________________________The World After Anxiety, Depression and Eating Disorder - Laugh Always Spotlight EditionBy Monica Vaklinova (1)

Welcome to the latest edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight!  Thanks for being here!  This is a first story like this that we have done; something different!

Have you ever thought about being lost in a foreign land where you don’t know the language?  I am sure that is why a lot of people don’t even travel to foreign countries because of this fear.  Here is a story from Monique & Dylan, also know as the Honeymoon Backpackers.  This is kind of a crazy story and I don’t know what I would have done!

We’ve never really been ones for planning; we like to go with the flow & just hope for the best. So that’s what we did whilst in Vietnam on our journey from Hanoi to Sapa, riding our motorbike ‘Betty’. Possibly not the brightest move on my behalf considering I suffer from anxiety. An unfamiliar environment, no one who speaks English, crazy drivers, potholes all over the road and tons of traffic, what could go wrong?

north vietnam

We already planned the route we wanted to take to Sapa; it’s part of the Northern Loop & has incredible scenery along the way. Except we ended up leaving from the North rather than the south, to bypass the insane peak hour traffic in Hanoi. This was the first of many poor decisions.

After a while, we realized the bike was lagging. Only to find that our petrol tank was empty, I guess that’s one way to realize that our petrol gauge doesn’t work. The freeway began & we saw a big sign saying “NO MOTORBIKES”, therefore we had to change routes.
Our phone battery is horrific and died within the first two hours of driving and our portable charger I swear I had the day before, was nowhere to be found. Things just weren’t going our way at all.

We were stopping every 5 minutes to ask for directions. Somehow we stumbled upon an old ancient complex, believed to have belonged to the Tang Dynasty who used to be the Chinese rulers of Vietnam. The winding roads were picturesque, we were sheltered by a natural canopy of vines blocking the piercing sun. We drove past beautiful lakes, with pathways wrapping around them. Old stone dragon statues protruded out of these perfectly manicured bushes. The entrance was just incredible with a huge main gate and guards. We snapped a quick picture, just before we got caught in a huge storm.
Somehow I was doing okay, despite everything that had gone wrong I tried to be positive. Dylan kept reassuring me that we are on some crazy adventure and that no other traveler who visits would experience what we did.


After the storm passed we got back on the road & somehow managed to make friends with another couple whilst riding our motorbike. It’s quite normal to ride next to each other on motorbikes and have a conversion, thank heavens I wasn’t the one driving.

The Vietnamese girl asked “Where are you going”, “We came from Hanoi & we’re going to Sapa” we said, “follow us” she answered, “we’re going the same way”.
Turns out we were not going the same way, in fact the opposite.. She thought we were going TO Hanoi not coming FROM Hanoi… I definitely should have just answered ‘Sapa’ instead of trying to have a proper English conversation! She said ‘sorry’ and told us to go back the way we came. Yeah now my anxiety and stress was settling in.


So we drove two hours back the way we came as it turned from dusk to complete darkness. We somehow found a cheap hotel, got some food and connected to WiFi. Only to realize that we didn’t have to backtrack two hours, just turn right instead of left. I was trying so hard not to loose it.
Despite everything, we had an awesome adventure on our first day, even though we only actually rode 120km, and were only two hours from Hanoi. Tomorrow we had some major riding to do if we were going to reach Sapa.
We woke up with a bright positive attitude that today was going to be our day. It’s a shame a positive attitude can only get you so far, when everything that could go wrong does go wrong.


We had our phone charged, route sorted and a clear sense of direction, but even that couldn’t help us. Once again we drove on the same road for the third time in a row.
We worked out the route we were going to take, had a pretty clear sense of our direction and this time our phone was fully charged! Off we went to embark upon the same long stretch of road for the 3rd time (thanks to yesterday’s mishap). Thankfully the drive was beautiful as it wrapped around a river alongside rice fields with water buffalo.
Google maps soon directed us towards the road to Sapa, YES. Our hearts dropped once we saw the “No Motorbikes” sign. This is when our killer plan & positive attitudes turned to shit. So we took the alternate route that weaved under and around the freeway we longed to be on. I wouldn’t even call this a road; it was a dirt path full of potholes, rocks and thick sludgy mud. We even had to cross through rivers and almost drowned our motorbike.
When I thought things couldn’t just get any worse, my phone battery died at 25%. My anxiety started to kick in, but Dylan was reassuring me that “it will be fine”. So we decided to kick it old school and follow a map that was missing majority of the roads, including the one we were on. What could go wrong?


We saw a sign that said Sapa at a 3-way intersection, so we had a 1/3 chance that we were going the right way. Every time we stopped and asked for directions, they just kept waving us through along the same road. So we just kept going.

Realistically, we should have turned around when we reached the first hill full of massive rocks and a 45 percent incline. I had to jump off and run up the hill that many times because our bike wasn’t going to make it. We were passing little ethnic villages with people wearing their tribal clothing and jewelry.


Everyone was running to the road waving at us, giving us high fives or just genuinely laughing at us. We were quite the celebrities.
I guess the incredible scenery and our lust for adventure distracted us from the reality that we were in fact going the wrong way. Our bike was struggling, nightfall was approaching, and we were in the middle of bloody nowhere! We were now 22km from the town we thought we had to get to, and then our exhaust fell off attempting to get up a rocky hill!
The whole village has come out to see what bought these two stupid foreigners here. I point the way we were heading and said ‘Sapa?’ and the whole town bursts out in laughter.

So it’s dark, we’re in this tiny little village with not even a Pho place to eat dinner, nowhere to stay, our motorbike is broken, no one speaks English and everyone is laughing at us. It’s no wonder I had an anxiety attack.
I started hyperventilating; my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen, I couldn’t stand anymore and started to get dizzy. There was Vietnamese people everywhere, laughing, pointing at me and taking photos. My limbs started to tense, I was sobbing and couldn’t move. How could I be in this situation right now, so lost and so far from civilization?
What are we going to do, it’s dark and our motorbike is broken, we have nowhere to stay, nowhere to eat and we’re in the middle of bloody where?

Thank heavens my husband Dylan was there. He helped bring my breathing back to normal and calm me down. A few local guys screwed on our broken exhaust to temporarily fix the problem and invited us for dinner and to stay at their house.


Everything that was running through my head, giving me this serve anxiety was soon resolved. It took a while to feel normal again, I think the rice wine they were feeding me helped, a lot.


The people were actually so beautiful, kind and lovely. They fed us beer, a massive dinner and put a roof over our head for the night. The whole village came to see us, take photos and practice their English. Some people in this village have never actually seen a foreigner before in their life, so it was really cool to be the first western person that they’ve ever seen. We communicated through Google translate and practiced our really limited Vietnamese.
After charging our phone, we realized why they were laughing. We were well and truly nowhere near Sapa, way out in the Yen Bai mountain range! I can see why they got a giggle out of it.

We were so grateful for the hospitality we received and relieved at how the situation turned out. It really restored our faith in humanity that people can just open their hearts and their homes to complete strangers, without asking for or accepting anything in return, even though these local people had so very little.


After another two hours of backtracking the next day, we got to that fork in the road. A local Vietnamese dude, told us to follow him leading us past the ‘No Motorbike’ sign and onto the freeway… So it turns out that we could have just taken the freeway from the beginning, signs in Vietnam are more of a guide than a must.
After running out of petrol, stumbling upon a monastery, getting lost, having tons of bike dramas, driving deep into the Yen Bai Mountain range, having to stay at a local family’s house, visiting villages, trekking through rivers and mud pits, tons of backtracking and time wasting, we had finally made it to Sapa!


We just wish that it had only taken us 7 hours, like it said on Google Maps! Ah well… It was a crazy experience, we overcame many hurdles and learnt so much from the mistakes that we made along the way. This is a travel experience that we will definitely never forget.


Author Bio

Honeymoon Backpackers Monique & Dylan, have been travelling the world for almost two years! It all began in May 2016, in the Philippines, where they got married barefoot on White Beach Boracay. Instead of having one elaborate honeymoon trip, they chose to embark on an endless backpacking honeymoon! In total they’ve explored 18 countries together so far. Their aim is to reach all 7 continents around the world on their endless backpacking honeymoon.

www.honeymoonbackpackers.com – Blog

Connect on with Honeymoon Backpackers on Instagram!


Thank you for reading another edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight!  This story was so awesome to read and gives you insight that there is still love in the world when it might be impossible to find it.  If you want to tell your story about surviving something, please get in touch with me either through the website or emailing me at laughalwayswithlo@gmail.com !

For more Laugh Always Spotlight Editions, head on over to the section up at the top of the page or read the latest story here —> Overcoming Injury – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition

Thank you for reading!

Until next time,


Overcoming Injury – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition

_This life is to be lived without regret__________________________________________The World After Anxiety, Depression and Eating (1)


Hi everyone!

We are back for another edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight!  I am excited to keep meeting people who are willing to share their stories with the world in hopes of providing inspiration to readers out there!  Hopefully you can relate to one of these stories!  Let me introduce you to Amber! Sustaining an injury that makes your life completely different is a mental challenge in itself.  Needing to depend on people to do the simplest of tasks is very challenging.  Here is Amber’s story.

My journey started on August 4, 2017. At work as a summer camp teacher for a preschool, I broke my left tibial plateau and changed my life forever. Before my injury, I was a very active, mostly happy person. My husband and I loved to go hiking, explore Richmond and attend festivals. I swam every weekday and ran every other day. At work, I engaged with my students by playing games and engrossing myself in their activities. I loved to cook and clean and care of my house. All of that changed on a field trip at work to the basketball gym.


The field trip went great! The children had a blast running drills, playing games and navigating an obstacle course. To wrap up our trip, we played a game of Sharks and Minnows where the teachers were the sharks and the students were the minnows. As I turned to catch a little minnow, my knee “gave out” when I turned wrong and I fell hard onto the floor. My body immediately went into shock. I could not cry or breathe or ask for help. It took a few minutes for anyone to notice that I was down for the count. I could not stand or put any amount of weight on my left leg. In order to not scare our students, they were quickly ushered onto the busses while we contacted my job, husband and brother-in-law. Then, I had to be carried out of the basketball gym by two men and put into a car, on my way back to work to access my situation. It was immediately determined that I needed to go to the hospital.

At the hospital with my brother-in-law in tow, the pain started to worsen as we found out that I had broken my tibial plateau. That’s right friends, I sustained an injury most common to pro athletes and car accident victims while running with kids at work. I spent four days in the hospital while doctors accessed my pain and surgeons decided when I would have surgery to fix the bone. During this time, my anxiety kicked in to the point that my heart rate would not go below 120 and my oxygen levels would not stabilize. This was the first time I have spent any amount of time in a hospital and was my first major injury. I was eventually sent home with a brace and pain meds, ordered to stay on bed rest until I would report to a different hospital on the 22 of August for surgery.

During my time on bed rest, I did not do well. Before my injury I was active and very independent. After my injury, I had to rely on my brother-in-law and my husband for everything. I had to use a walker in order to get from the couch to the restroom to the bedroom. I also assistance standing up and someone to spot me as I moved. My depression and anxiety made the walls move in on me more and more every day. The pain was barely manageable and that just put me into a darker hole.

Finally, the time for surgery came. My mother made the trip down from New Jersey to be with me seeing as this was my very first surgery and I was nervous out of my mind. The anxiety and nervousness I felt followed me all the way into the operating room. I was later told that it took more medication than usual to sedate me and I cried and begged for them not to do the surgery. All of this I personally do not remember. The next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room alone and in a lot of pain. They took me up to my room where I got to see my mom, husband and brother-in-law. I spent four days in the medical unit while I built up my strength and will to stand and move around again.

I was then transferred to an inpatient rehab unit to further my progress. There is where I really blossomed and began healing. I was taught how to move using crutches while being non-weight bearing so that I would no longer have to be on bed rest. I was also taught how to care for myself while I was healing and building up my strength after surgery. I spent another four days in the rehab unit before they finally allowed me to return home.


At home, I began to explore my mobility and independence. I still needed a lot of help to complete simple tasks. For example, I could cook dinner for myself and my family, but I could not take my plate to the table. I returned to work shortly after being released from the rehab unit. I went back part time in order to attend therapy two days a week. While at work, I am confined to a chair and need assistance with carrying things or moving things around. Hopefully, when I am fully healed, I will become more useful.

Today, I still attend therapy two times a week and hope to add more hours at work. After three months of being non-weight bearing and using crutches to move, I am finally healed enough to being trying to walk again.


There is still a very long and hard road ahead of me, but with the support of my family and friends, I am finally in a better place mentally and have hope to be walking again for Christmas.



Thank you for reading about Amber’s story.  I can’t imagine how with just the simplest of tasks you need to rely on someone to assist you.  Thank God Amber had people in her life to help her and seems to have a great support group.
Please connect with Amber through her social media pages!

Blog: http://ambercairoli.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ambercairoli

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/amberoo0302

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AmberCairoli

If you have a story you would like to share, please contact me on any social media platform below or contact me through the website.  I would love to showcase your story if you are willing to tell it!

For more stories like Amber’s, please visit the Laugh Always Spotlight section or you can click on this story here —> When the Small Things Become Big

Until next time,


When the Small Things Become Big – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition

_This life is to be lived without regret__________________________________________The World After Anxiety, Depression and Eating (3)

Introducing another brave soul in our Laugh Always Spotlight – Wrae Sanders.  Sometimes a life changing event alters the rest of your life and you must have to learn to live with it.  Please read on to read what happened with Wrae.


Late March, 2013. I was a mom of three, working full time as a mental health associate in a large mental health facility. I loved my job, but my marriage and home life were falling apart. My younger son had been diagnosed with ADHD and Autism two years earlier, but my husband hadn’t quite caught on to the diagnosis and the support that I needed. He was doing great with our son and other two kids, but me? Not so much. At that point, I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating well, and I was constantly stressed out.

​I started having bad headaches, and I just assumed they were due to being busy and not taking care of myself, but I kept going. One headache went big, however, and I couldn’t ignore it.

​On March 30, 2013, I was at work, pulling in overtime. I was scheduled to work until 7 PM, instead of my usual 3 PM. I didn’t mind this.  As I previously stated, I loved my job, and on that day, I was at a semi-outpatient unit away from the main facility. I’d had a bad headache all day, but as the day went by, it just got worse. At one point, my right arm started to feel funny and I couldn’t even hold onto the crayon I was coloring with. Weird. My vision was a bit blurry, and I was starting to get nauseated. At this point, I decided to go home. I called the scheduling secretary and told him I wasn’t feeling well and drove home. NOTE: If you even think you are having a stroke, please do NOT DRIVE! Please have someone drive you! Looking back, the nurse that I was working with felt terrible once she found out what had happened, but neither of us knew at the time, so I wasn’t mad at her. Even more ironic? The building I was in is literally within walking distance of a hospital.

​I drove home and all I wanted was to go to bed and go to sleep, as I had done before with similar headaches. I got into bed and something happened. I couldn’t move my arm. NOTE: If you cannot move body parts, something is terribly wrong. Also, if you are showing signs of a stroke, DO NOT GO TO SLEEP!! This can end very badly. I started crying because I had no idea what was going on, and at that point, my husband, Matthew, called my mother. He was also a bit freaked out, and didn’t quite know what to do.

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My mom took me to the hospital while Matthew stayed at home with the kids. She had to sign me in because I couldn’t write, and as soon as the staff realized what was going on, I was taken back into an exam room. My blood pressure was way out there- I’ll never forget the 200/110 reading and the look on the nurse’s face. I was immediately taken to get a CT scan. Within a half hour (if even that), it was determined that I was most likely having a stroke and needed to be taken downtown to a different facility. My mom left at that point, but I do remember telling her that if something happened and I didn’t make it, to tell my babies that I loved them. She is not a crier, but she cried as she left.

​I don’t remember the trip downtown and what happened after, because I finally fell asleep, but I woke up on the stroke unit a few hours later. It was Easter Sunday. The neurologists told me that I had, in fact, had a TIA (trans ischemic attack, otherwise known as a mini-stroke), and it had occurred due to a migraine. This happened because the pain from the migraine agitated a blood vessel in my brain and things went bad from there. It had occurred on the left side of my brain, which is why my right side had gone all out of whack.

I was only 30, so this made me the youngest patient on the unit at the time.

​I stayed in the hospital a couple of days, had a slight bit of physical therapy and went home. I started seeing a neurologist. I was told then to start making changes in my life to eliminate stress, and I made a big one by changing my job- I found a regular unit to work on instead of being on a different one everyday. I went to my favorite unit, a unit for kids with autism and other developmental and behavioral disorders. I started taking care of myself more. I spend more time with my friends, kids and family. I started doing what made me happy. I learned to have all the fun I possibly can each day, because I almost lost the chance to do so. Every year on March 30, I do something fun to celebrate my life. I also take a lot less crap than I used to.

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​The neurologists at the hospital warned my husband and I that there would be changes, and some of them would not be fun. They did not lie.  Over time, I realized exactly what they meant. I have had migraines since the stroke, a few that have been so bad that I have had to go to the ER. Thankfully, I have medications that prevent this. I have a speech problem called aphasia, which means I jumble my words sometimes, or I have problems finding the right words to say. I sometimes pause when I am doing this. It is incredibly frustrating, especially for someone that talks a lot! This gets worse during a migraine. I have learned to slow down and explain this issues to others when I need to. I have some slight issues with balance. My short-term memory has been affected. If I don’t write things down, I may not remember them. I have an app on my phone that I use to write things down to help me remember things. My kids remind me of things a lot.

​I’ve learned to adjust to these things over the years. It can be hard, but it beats not being alive to tell the story.

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Wrae is a mental health and parenting blogger in Louisville, KY. She is married and has three children, who are 12, 11 and 9. She has a BA in Clinical Psychology from Spalding University.  When she is not writing, Wrae spends time with her family and friends, or is reading and/or listening to a true crime podcast. She also enjoys coloring in adult coloring books. 

Social Media Information:

Website: www.wraemeredithblogs.wordpress.com​​

Facebook: www.facebook.com/WraeMeredithBlogs

Instagram @shortstackblogs

Email: wraemsanders@gmail.com


Thank you for taking the time to read Wrae’s journey and how she lives her life after a traumatic event.  If you have a story that you want to share, please connect with me and I would love to tell it!

If you want to read more stories like this, please head on over to the Laugh Always Spotlight Edition section or you can click on this recent post here – Over the Rainbow – Laugh Always Spotlight Edition

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